Missing: The BoatUS Icon

By Capt. Steve Chaconas

Richard Schwartz made sure BoatUS kept both oars in the water on a steady course to float everyone’s boat.

BoatUS Founder Richard SchwartzBoatUS Founder Richard Schwartz at home on the water.

The Legacy

Leaving your mark is a life's dream. Accomplishing that while raising the bar makes you a legend. The boating industry lost a legend earlier this year. BoatUS founder Richard Schwartz passed away at 85, leaving behind a locker full of accolades, including the largest US boat owners organization that fights boating battles! Life is safer for boaters who have access to services making the boating experience better.

Schwartz created the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) and for nearly a half-century advocated for boat owners and operated a nationwide discount marine retail chain with 62 BoatUS stores. In the early 1960s it wasn't much of a stretch to visualize Schwartz, a young Princeton and Yale Law School graduate and anti-trust attorney, establishing the nation's largest and most influential recreational boating organization. While a guest on a friend's boat, the friend was given a ticket for something Schwartz felt was unfair and not the boater's responsibility. Discovering there was no one fighting for the interests of boaters, BoatUS was conceived, adopting a mission of "service, savings and representation." Schwartz ascertained the boating manufacturing sector was also complicit as it built in issues and inconsistencies into boat construction and safety. He created the only Consumer Protection Bureau for boaters seeking redress with manufacturers.

Boaters never think about insurance polices until they file a claim or pay premiums. Schwartz put a lot of thought into insurance so boaters wouldn't need to, replacing gobbledygook insurance industry jargon with plain English common sense. Realizing most boating insurance coverages were full of leaks, he introduced BoatUS Insurance in 1967.

Listing his accomplishments would take away from boating time. Anyone enjoying time on the water owes Schwartz a salute. His Capitol Hill testimony resulted in the watershed Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971, giving the US Coast Guard the power to hold manufacturers accountable for certain safety standards. It also led to the creation of the US Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety, a life-saving move!

Protecting Boaters And Promoting Safety

Richard Schwartz sought legislation to legally protect boater rights, contributing to the passage of the Recreational Boating Safety and Facilities Improvement Act of 1979 that directed taxes and fees paid by boaters to support boating programs. He opposed the luxury tax (1992) and diesel fuel tax (1997), both repealed! The Granddaddy of boating legislation, the 1984 federal Wallop/Breaux Trust Fund Amendment that now returns over $650 million annually to federal and state boating and fishing programs, has been credited to Schwartz!

Schwartz's tireless efforts influenced national boating safety with the BoatUS 501(c) 3 nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water. This program ranges from free Online Boating Safety Courses to the only nationwide Life Jacket Loaner Program for Kids and EPIRB rental programs. The BoatUS Magazine has become the largest boating magazine in the country with a circulation of over half a million. In the 1980s Congress ordered cessation of Coast Guard tows. The most recognizable mantle of BoatUS services, red BoatUS Towing boats, replaced the Coast Guard's on-the-water assistance! Recently BoatUS halted an effort by a company petitioning the Government to implement a new wireless band. Sounded good until BoatUS revealed this would be a disaster for GPS, a system boaters rely on for navigation safety.

In the BoatUS Alexandria Headquarters lobby, a wall map displays colored lights indicating customer location and numbers. Missing was the inshore boater. Big boaters were aware of BoatUS, the Association, the insurance and TowboatUS. BoatUS created a big splash in the bass boat pond. Bass anglers and bass guides across the country now know and employ BoatUS as their insurance provider. I became familiar with BoatUS when a bass buddy of mine had issues with his outboard. BoatUS not only stood by him, they negotiated a brand new motor. This in light of the fact that the manufacturer was just weeks away from filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy! I was impressed, but they didn’t offer guide policies. Working with BoatUS, about 8 years ago, a bass policy and the ultimate guide policy emerged with on and off the water towing!

Only 4 years ago, Schwartz turned the rudder of the nation's #1 boat-owners advocate to BoatUS President Margaret Bonds Podlich. Schwartz remained on board as Chairman of the BoatUS Board of Directors as well as Chairman of the BoatUS National Advisory Council. Richard was well loved by everyone and would spend time just chatting about boating. On my visits to the Alexandria Headquarters, I would occasionally see him. He always remembered me as the guy who liked his shirts. Truth be told I liked him, more than his shirts. End of story hook

— Published: March 2015


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